Written by Michelle L. Padrelanan
When I was still a young mother, one of the constant prayers I had was for me not to experience the pain of losing one of my children. I whispered it so many times to God, telling Him to spare me that kind of pain because I may not survive it.
The Beginning of the End
It was during the sixth month of my sixth pregnancy when I had an inkling that something was wrong. I was bleeding daily despite medications and strict bed rest.
I woke up one night with a start. I tried to lie on my side, but when I moved, I felt liquid gushing out of me. Imagine the horror that my husband saw when he opened the light and saw me lying in a pool of my blood.
I lost so much blood so the doctor decided to terminate the pregnancy or else, I could die. This meant that my son will be born prematurely. After one month stay in the NICU, his doctor sent him home. I was terrified because he was still so small.
The two weeks we had him home was a whirlwind of doctor visits, breastfeeding and collecting milk, and trying to sleep in between. After two weeks, he had lost weight. He was so small and weak that he could not suck well. His doctor recommended another stay in the NICU where he lived four more days. On the fourth day, we all took turns carrying him as we waited for his last breath. Finally, he died in my arms and I kissed him for the last time.
Processing Death and Grief
I couldn’t accept it. The week after his death, I felt numb all over. I was like a puppet whose strings had to be pulled by my husband and my parents. The only time I felt alive was when I saw any of my other children grieving their loss. I would switch from grieving mom to comforting mom immediately.
Every day was a challenge. My tears flowed easily. I found a pain so deep that no matter what I do, nothing could make it go away. My sister asked, “Why is it that we can’t be comfortable with the pain?” This baffled me and I sought to understand it. That’s when I learned about DABDA.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (“On Death and Dying”, 1969) wrote about the five stages of grief. The stages are non-linear which means that a grieving person doesn’t go through every stage in a certain order. It’s more like going in and out of each stage over and over again.
Denial is our body’s defense mechanism against the pain of loss. It’s our body saying that the pain is too much to handle. The only way we can handle it is by pacing the grief. At times, we even have a sliver of hope that maybe it isn’t true. It can also come as numbness just like I shared earlier. For others, denial manifests itself through fear. When you deny the truth, you are living in ‘preferable’ reality, not in ‘actual’ reality.
As you start to be in ‘actual’ reality, anger can seep out. It manifests through irritation, anxiety, or rage. You blame others and even yourself for what happened. At times, you’ll be surprised at who you are angry with. If your faith is strong, you may even be angry at God.
I was very angry for months after my son died. I was angry at myself, my husband, my parents, and anyone else who I can think of. Most of all, I was angry at God. I was enraged and my prayers were filled with it. I wasn’t afraid to pray those prayers because I thought that, as my Heavenly Father, He can understand me.
It is important to allow yourself to feel the anger but be careful not to lash out at anybody to preserve your relationships.
Along with the feelings of anger come all the “what if” questions. “What if we had placed him in a better hospital?” “What if the doctor did not release him so soon?” “What if we had more money for better care?”
Bargaining is also a type of denial because of the false hope that you are attempting to have. This is the stage when you are trying to get back to the normalcy that you had before death.
Depression sets in when you begin to accept what happened. As you reflect on your losses, sadness, loneliness, and yearning are common emotions. For some people, this is a time of overwhelming sadness as they realize that life must go on. Depression may also signal the beginning of acceptance as you start to reflect on what life may become after this.
When you start to make plans for a life without your loved one, acceptance starts to set in. You can finally tell yourself, “Okay, I know he’s gone, but I am going to be okay.” Moving on is different because it signifies leaving someone. With death, we continue to live even as we continue mourning.
Living With Grief
It took me more than two years to finally accept that my son died and that I’ve done the best I can while he was alive. I also started seeing the good that came with it. My children learned to empathize with other children who experienced loss. My husband and I have been able to accept that together, we grew a child in my womb, and together we lost that child. It is painful, hard, and ugly. At the same time, we all grew and learned to accept. As for me, I gained back the joy in my life through the grace of God. I understood that God still had many things for me to do. In God’s time, I will see my son again.
Dying is part of the natural order of life. We were meant to grieve our losses. It’s natural that we want to protect ourselves from experiencing pain, but we should also remember that out of pain comes growth and wisdom. It isn’t easy, but with the help of others and of God, we can come back to ourselves and keep on living. Grief should not be avoided, because the more you try to avoid it, the longer it will take for you to keep experiencing the pain.